A prologue with impressive world-building.
It’s time to try a new series out and see what it has to offer. This time, we have Seven Seas’ The Dungeon of Black Company that came out two months ago. Is it good?
According to the back of the book:
Kinji had it made-a swank apartment, a real estate empire, and enough cash to lounge around living the good life. After a freak magical accident, he washes up in another world, all but enslaved to a crooked corporation. In a fantastical land where money is everything, there’s only one way for an Earthling to get ahead: make your fortune, by any means necessary! Dragons, goblins, and the occasional dubious potion won’t stop Kinji’s quest for the world’s biggest bank account. The Black Company is open for business!
The best way to describe the first volume of The Dungeon of Black Company is that it’s the prologue to what the series will be about. The titular company isn’t even really formed, conceptually at least, until the very end of the book. Everything until then is more about setting things up so we can reach the formation naturally. We meet Ninomiya Kinji and see a skeevy guy like him deal with his entire world being thrown upside down, as well as how he’s adjusted. We are introduced to Raiza’ha Mining Co., the place that Kinji is essentially a slave to, and see how they operate and how they’re just a horrible company through and through. We meet the bit players that end up circling around our lead for one reason or another, most likely to end up joining his cause and the new company. It is a lot of set-up, but it’s sneakily done in a way that doesn’t feel like that. It’s more presented as a collection of small events with a single plot thread that all build and come together to really form the basis for the main story, if that makes sense.
It’s an interesting route to go with the manga. The way things are told, every chapter feels eventful enough and always has something going on. The volume certainly has this aimless feel to it at first, but once you realize what the story has been doing, I think it comes together pretty well. However, I do think the writing and story suffer from two things. The first is that this is a comedy but personally I don’t think it is really all that funny. There’s something about the pacing to the book that doesn’t really work well with setting up gags, and the writing doesn’t feel clever enough in its dialogue or approach to certain situations. Now, that isn’t to say this book never lands a joke, because it really can. Kinji leading an army ant revolt that ends up deposing the queen ant due to her not providing medical care, time off, or anything like that is rather amusing and a fun resolution to the plot line.
Now, the second problem, and also the reason a lot of the comedy doesn’t work, is the protagonist himself. To sum Kinji up quite simply, he’s a complete and utter a-----e. He mocks people for working, pulls many scams on people that backfire and cause a lot of damage, abuses and misuses others if he gets the chance, never learns from his mistakes, and never shows a simple evolution in his character. There’s not one likeable thing about the guy at all and that can makes things a pain to read, since a lot of the comedy comes from his behavior and the trouble he causes. However, most of the time it is simply not funny, like when he is torturing and enslaving his co-workers to the point of exhaustion and beating some of them for wanting food, water, or even a small break.
I will say that as a main character he fits well into the Isekai genre, a type of series where a person from our world ends up in a parallel world or dimension. He’s the type of person you would want to see get uprooted for sure, and to the series’s credit he is never given a break. Everything ultimately backfires on him in more ways than one, like the dragon girl eating up money he earns early on. There are constant comeuppances for his behavior but that’s about it, and since he never learns it becomes hard to care about things.
There’s not a whole lot else to the cast here, either. The only two important figures are Wanibe, a lizardman, and this mysterious dragon girl. Wanibe is sort of the morality character of the series, always trying to talk some sense into Kinji even if he is constantly ignored. He’s a pleasant character who just goes with the flow and never really strives for much. He’s likable enough, and despite the problems teaming up with Kinji has probably helped him out a lot more than what he or even we may think. The dragon girl is pretty much just a plot device, someone there that’ll always make things a bit more difficult for Kinji. She lives for and loves eating, promising to kill and eat Kinji if he doesn’t keep feeding her every day…and that’s really it. She does have some amusing moments in her interactions with the other characters, but I would have preferred a little more depth.
The rest of the writing is perfectly fine but not all that notable. The only exception would be the world-building. In Isekai series it’s always good to flesh out the world our protagonist ends up in and make it feel real and livable. In the case of this series, Raiza’ha Mining Co. is pretty well fleshed out and established in how it operates and why so many people work for it. It feels like a real corporation in how it is presented and divided up, with so many groups and levels of bureaucracy within it. You get why it is a terrible place and why the existence and creation of the Black Company would be for the best. For those into world-building and the finer details of a fantasy setting, there’s something here to enjoy.
The true star of the series though is the artwork. Yasumura’s artwork is just beautiful and really gives this series an extra edge. The fantasy characters are all drawn really well no matter what kind of species, and the creator is able to get a lot of personality in their facial and body language. Despite the dingy locations everything is pretty well-detailed, and with actual backgrounds drawn frequently it makes the setting feel like it’s there more. Even if the comedy isn’t particularly great, the art does its best to help sell some of the humor and visual jokes with good facial expressions and silly visuals. The layouts are solidly constructed and make things easy to follow along with. Any bits of action feel stiff, but that’s not really a problem. It’s rare and this series isn’t really focused on action anyways. All in all, the artwork is solid and hopefully the writing will get better to take better advantage of it.
Is It Good?
The Dungeon of Black Company Vol. 1 leaves something to be desired. While not necessarily a bad character to use in the context of this series, the frustrating, stagnant protagonist makes the story never feel as engaging as it should be. Due to him and other factors, the humor doesn’t land as well as it could, making this volume a bit of a hard sell. Perhaps things will improve in future volumes, but as it is you’re not missing much besides the terrific art if you give this series a skip.